Advent’s summons

Ken Sehested

Invocation. “The First Noel,” Leslie Odom Jr. ft. PS22 Chorus

§  §  §

Implausibly, and over the decades, my consistent experience is that when I dare venture into war zones and places of serious social conflict, I find people you would think should just give in, give out, give over their futures to those with greedy hearts and malevolent hands.

In fact, the opposite is true. The most hopeful people I know make their home in such circumstances.

Hope breaks out in the most unlikely places. Yet again we are reminded of Scripture’s repeated insistence that light breaks out amongst those “who walk in darkness . . . amid the shadow of death.” There is, I think, a correlation, not merely a coincidence (cf. Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16).

Advent’s invitation encourages such risky advent-ures:

  • To journey with the Magi into unguarded land, under the cover of darkness, with nothing but starlight as a guide; then returning home “by another way” to elude Herod’s operatives.
  • To ramble with startled shepherds, uncultured peasants who welcome Heaven’s amazement more readily that the royally-titled who assume all history is safely, irreversibly secured.
  • To linger with Elizabeth in her childless shame, soon to be reversed with the Baptizer’s birth and vocation to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
  • To exult with Mary’s concordance with Incarnation’s disclosure and its glad news to the lowly, its ominous threat to the privileged.
  • To accompaniment with Bethlehem’s postpartum grief of unnamed mothers over the slaughter of their infants, bearing the brunt of Herod’s rage against Messiah’s threat to every coercive regime.
  • To come alongside Joseph in his willing forfeiture of progeny’s claim, soon receding in Nativity’s wake, eclipsed in this divine drama but not forgotten in the prayers of abandoned children and all who disappear from history.

Finally, kindred, be clear about this: Heaven’s advent-urous invitation is not dependent on ethical rigor or moral heroism. The Spirit’s summons to be present among the unaccounted and the discarded is the opportunity to behold beatific light erupting from dire circumstance. Only amid this locus are eyes opened and ears unstopped to messianic purpose.

Therefore put away your shiny baubles, your market forecasts, and every assumption of entitlement. Bet everything as if you hold a royal flush. The tables are turning to a new and flourishing future rid of the casino’s rule.

Seeing history from below is precisely the location from which we see ourselves, in relationship with our discounted neighbors, through the eyes of the One who promises to Make All Things New, for a secured future where all sit beneath their own vines and fig trees and none are made to fear.

§  §  §

Benediction. “Noel,” Lauren Daigle

20 December 2023